Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has fired his ambassador to Beijing after he made comments about an ongoing extradition process involving Meng Wanzhou, a top executive with China's flagship telecom giant Huawei.
John McCallum was fired after he told the Toronto Star newspaper on Friday that it would be "great" if the U.S. dropped its extradition request for Meng, who is currently under house arrest at her Vancouver home after her arrest on Dec. 1 at Washington's request.
His comment came after he had retracted an earlier comment to the effect that Meng, Huawei's chief financial officer, had a strong argument to make against being extradited.
McCallum's sacking prompted a chorus of protest and support from Chinese newspapers, which are tasked with promoting the views of the ruling Chinese Communist Party.
The Global Times newspaper said in an editorial that the move "reveals political interference," in Meng's case, which has soured ties with Beijing.
Ottawa is now as "sensitive as a frightened bird," the newspaper said, adding that Trudeau's government "knew the geopolitics in the case from the very beginning, but were afraid to point them out."
"You cannot live the life of a whore and expect a monument to your chastity," the paper said, citing a Chinese folk saying.
The paper also ran an opinion article containing personal attacks on the journalist who reported the former diplomat's comments on Friday, while Ling Shengli, an analyst with the China Foreign Affairs University, a diplomatic school under the aegis of the foreign ministry, hinted that Beijing would like to see McCallum reinstated.
"If McCallum could stay on [in] his position, he may help reduce the damage that Meng's case would bring to bilateral relations," Ling wrote.
The English-language China Daily wrote that "McCallum was merely stating the truth when he observed that Meng has a strong case against extradition, which he rightly said was politically motivated."
U.S. authorities must file a formal extradition request for Meng by Jan. 30.
Foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang on Monday repeated Beijing's call for Canada to free Meng, saying her extradition case "is by no means a simple judicial case."
"There are strong political motives and manipulation behind it," Geng said.
At least 13 Canadians were detained in China after Chinese officials vowed to retaliate for the arrest of Meng, who is wanted for questioning by investigators in the U.S. over alleged bank fraud linked to the breach of sanctions against Iran.
While at least eight have since been released, a court in the northeastern city of Dalian on Dec. 29 handed down the death penalty to Canadian national Robert Schellenberg, who was originally sentenced to 15 years in prison for drug smuggling last November.
Former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig and consultant Michael Spavor remain in detention on suspicion of "endangering national security."
'National security threat'
Meanwhile, national security researchers at George Mason University published a report warning that Huawei should be regarded as a potential security threat as governments around the world begin tendering for next-generation 5G mobile network infrastructure, given a 2017 Chinese law requiring Chinese companies and citizens to comply with spying requests from the government.
"Huawei and ZTE represent a serious, long-term national security threat to the U.S. that expands exponentially with the advent of 5G," the report, released on Jan. 24 and authored by Andy Keiser and Bryan Smith, said.
"Both Huawei and ZTE have their origins in the Chinese state, remain integrated with the Chinese Communist Party, and are bound by Chinese law and policy to serve state security and economic interests," it said.
The report refers to past allegations that Huawei has offered bribes in order to further its agenda, and that both companies have violated sanction orders issued by the U.S.
“Both companies have a history of actions ranging from troublesome to illegal—involving bribery, corruption, and sanctions evasion, as well as a record of supplying technological tools being deployed by authoritarian regimes to suppress dissent."
Huawei has repeatedly insisted that it is a private company with no ties to the state.
But Feng Chongyi, associate professor in China Studies at Sydney's University of Technology, said the top private Chinese companies are also an inalienable part of China's ruling elite.
"It's not just the state-owned enterprises," Feng said. "Quite a few private companies have close ties with either the government, or with the Chinese [political] elite."
"They are expected to behave in a far more supportive and patriotic way than other companies," he said. "The Huawei affair has been a clash between the Chinese political system and that of the democratic world."
"Democratic nations have to re-establish the rules, if they have been broken or bent by Huawei or by other top executives with a special [political] background," Feng said.
'Like a virus'
The United States, France and other western nations have also warned that using Huawei base stations and other equipment could give Beijing access to critical network infrastructure worldwide, possibly enabling high-level espionage.
Germany-based law scholar Qian Yuejun, who edits the China-Europe Herald newspaper, said Huawei obeys the Chinese government's orders in all things.
"This is because China is a dictatorship, and Chinese tech is like a virus," Qian said. "Hidden threats in Huawei technology are like viruses."
"The whole world will be interconnected in future," he said. "When the Chinese government feels it needs to do so, it can collect all of your data."
"It could paralyze an entire country if it wanted to stop you speaking out," he said.
China's envoy to the E.U. told the Financial Times on Monday that Huawei was the victim of slander.
"It is not helpful to make slander, discrimination, pressure, coercion or speculation against anyone else," the paper quoted Ambassador Zhang Ming as saying.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has previously said the warnings about Huawei are "unfair and immoral".
Reported by Liu Fei for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Ng Yik-tung and Wen Yuqing for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.